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Arrr! Movie Pirates Busted

Frank Ahrens

Yesterday, the Motion Picture Industry of America (MPAA) -- the trade group and lobbying arm of the major Hollywood studios -- announced the arrest of two L.A. 20-something cousins accused of stealing movies and uploading them to the Internet.

The movies in question are "screeners." Screeners are DVD copies of films sent to Oscar voters so they can take a look a movies nominated for Academy Awards if they haven't been able to get out and see them in the theaters. Studios often wait until late in the year to release movies they think have a good chance at an Oscar, so it will be fresh in voters' minds, as opposed to a film that came out in, say, February.

Which means: Sometimes DVD screeners are out before the movie has been distributed. This makes them a prime target for pirates.

The 22-year-old male who was arrested put the films on the Web. After which, he made his critical mistake: He tried to sell the DVDs to an undercover informant. (How does one become an MPAA informant? Is it the minor leagues for cops? A step up from schoolyard snitch?)

Once nabbed, the perp turned in his source for the stolen DVDs: His 22-year-old female cousin, a receptionist at an accounting firm that works with the Academy Awards. She is accused of intercepting the DVDs sent to the accounting firm and turning them over to her bonehead cousin. (Thank goodness most criminals are idiots.) The MPAA knows the stolen DVDs are screeners and not just any old DVD because each screener is encoded with a watermark identifying the intended recipient of the disc.

The movies that were stolen: "Infamous" (Warner Bros.), "Little Children" (New Line), "Babel" (Paramount), "Running With Scissors" and "Marie Antoinette" (Sony) and "The Dead Girl" (First Look).

The cops tossed the female perp's house and found three more stolen screeners: "Pirates of The Carribean 2" (Disney, and how appropriate), "Superman Returns" (Warner Bros.) and "The Queen" (Miramax).

All part of the MPAA's enforcement arm, which seeks to shut down pirates both here and abroad.

By Frank Ahrens  |  December 6, 2006; 4:10 PM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Hopefully the other pirates are smarter than this woman's cousin, I'd really like to download Babel.

Posted by: caroldc | December 7, 2006 9:47 AM

Why don't you cheap bastards just go see the frickin movie in the theater?!

Posted by: Fred | December 7, 2006 10:58 AM

So the MPAA busts two small-fry DVD thieves, real underground movie scene nods in acknowledgement and carries on doing what they were doing before.

From the looks of it, these two people pretty much handed themselves over on a silver platter. Trying to sell stolen DVDs... Jesus wept.

Posted by: Christopher | December 7, 2006 11:02 AM

Price isn't the only reason for illegal downloading. Convenience is another, which begs for simultaneous legal release by studios on multiple channels. If a legal cinephile-grade version of iTunes for movies existed (meaning an easy-to-use, hassle-free service that would let you burn a DVD after downloading), then piracy would go down over time. Hint to the clueless: I'm not advocating illegal acts, but a change in studio business models.

The other reason people don't go to theaters is because it's a miserable environment in which to see a movie, thanks to louts of all flavors. This is an intractable problem, since teens in particular are the largest moviegoing audience and theaters aren't about to start confronting them in large numbers. A cellphone-blocking Faraday cage in every theater would be a good start, but that's the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by: Satorical | December 7, 2006 12:49 PM

congrats to the MPAA for busting The Gang That Couldn't Dupe Straight

Posted by: rupert pupkin | December 7, 2006 1:53 PM

Myself? I don't go see movies in the theaters much any more because it costs me about 69.00 to go. That includes 2 adult tickets (10.00 each), minimal concessions (10.00), and the babysitter (3 hours @ 13.00 per hour = 39.00). Instead, I just wait for it to come out on DVD and get it via Netflix. Most of the time the cost of the eventual dvd is still better to pay than the time and annoyance of trying to get the stupid thing illegally off the web. Even with iTunes it's not really worth it. Plus, if the movie sucks I'm out 2-3 hours of my life rather than 70 bucks.

Posted by: TK | December 8, 2006 12:09 PM

"Real" pirates don't: 1) Post on the Internet. 2) Sell their wares out in public 3) Never identify themselves by real names or e-mail addresses. This is all easily done via Usenet, which has been around since the late '60s (which makes the Internet an extreme latecomer to the scene), and is virtually unknown by the majority of the public. It is very easy to access, as every ISP has a news-server(on port 119, by default). But the premium high speed proxy servers that charge so much a month for access to their servers is where the majority of Usenet traffic resides. It is also virtually untraceable on the download side, and is easily masked through proxy servers on the upload side. So basically, there's not a bloody thing the MPAA can do about the majority of piracy. On Usenet, you will find print and audio books, music, TV programs, movies (of course), porn that can't even BE found on the Internet, technical manuals, games, anything and everything that can be bundled into a file and uploaded to a news server. I've known people who have found and downloaded computer programs worth tens of thousands of dollars, such as professional CAD and CAM programs, Microsoft Professional Office products, etc. from Usenet for actual pennies. There are far too many people doing this for it to be quelled. They will have no choice but to surrender. Resistance is futile, piracy is here to stay.

Posted by: Captain Hook | December 9, 2006 7:21 AM

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